Techno Pioneers

This week I interviewed both local DJ Domewrekka and internationally acclaimed mash-up artist Girl Talk. The buzz surrounding both of these artists is the dance party atmosphere they create as well as their unique interactions with fans.
To be honest, I had never considered the process behind a computer or at a set of turntables as an artistic method, but I had also never been in a DJ booth before last week.

There are some people who might consider Girl Talk to be a DJ masquerading as an artist, a thief of popular music, an abuser of the creative commons license — and I considered all of these points before I talked to the artist (and before I danced my ass off at his show).

Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, describes his work as meticulous and labor intensive, and I imagine he uses fair portions of both sides of his brain — splicing, reorganizing and syncing (left) as well as feeling, listening and grooving (right).

When I imagine Gillis’ process, I picture him as a digital quilter. He takes snippets of an existing fabric and creates new patterns, new feeling and new purpose out of the material. The real question is: Would you call your grandmother and her circle of quilters thieves? Or would you call them artists?

The hang-up for most people is the subject of value. How valuable was the pop music Girl Talk sampled before he mashed it into his set list, and is it fair for him to manipulate or leverage that value?

I would venture that Gillis doesn’t see monetary value or ownership as a relevant point. He only sees a basket full of fabric, and looking through his samples, he sees the appeal of color, texture and pattern. He values the product, but not the label; and for our label-obsessed culture, this is a liberating and deeply engaging concept. Dare I call it avant-garde?

Girl Talk is currently working with a formula that captures the essence of pop music. Forget those lame “Now” mix CDs. In 10 years, I will just listen to a Girl Talk album, a celebration not only of popular music from the day, but also of influential music from the past. The artist mashes up current hits with nostalgic throwbacks, and the result is a sound that can transport the listener to different times, sometimes holding you in different eras (and different memories) simultaneously.

Gillis’ artistry resides in his ability to hear and feel the singular aspects of different songs and to piece them together into a coherent and singular sound. The current set is mash-up after mash-up of hooks, dance beats and peaks from the pop-music of the ages. The result is a packed house, full of jumping, swaying, sweaty bodies. His show is a feast for the ravenous ADD mind, housed in a body that just wants to dance.

Local DJ Domewrekka (Ricky Black) has yet to venture into his full-fledged artistry, but even as a DJ his ability to match beats and read the mood of the crowd is impressive. He took me into the DJ booth in an attempt to help me understand the process, but the main thing I understand now is, “Wow, this is more complicated than I thought.”

Using a combination of hardware (turntables) and software (programs on his laptop) — but absolutely no auto syncing — Domewrekka listens to both songs through the ears of his headphones, waiting for the right moment to switch tracks, speeding up tempos or slowing them down in order to match the beats.

After spending time on a dance floor led by both Girl Talk and Domewrekka, I would have to call a draw between the two experiences. The intensity of dubstep might prove a challenge for anyone to merely sit and listen to. It’s the type of music that forces you to move, and to move in new ways.

The synthetic, digitally influenced sound of the music has inspired a new wave of dancing that I only wish I could get in on. On YouTube, there are many videos featuring dubstep dancing: robotic pop-and-lock moves that are sharp, but fluid — much like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. It makes me wonder about the merger of technology and art and how it’s influencing the way we move, speak and create.

Are these DJs and digital artists the pioneers of technological artistry? I, for one, will be paying close attention.

Categories: Commentary